Several of these questions were answered by Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, the Principal Investigator for the Planetary Lake Lander Project, and Dr. Ellen Stofan, the Principal Investigator for the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) mission that was proposed to NASA last year. Dr. Cabrol, an astrobiologist, and Dr. Stofan, a planetary geologist, are both scientists who study the surfaces of Earth and other planets in order to understand the physical processes, such as glaciation, volcanism and erosion, that shape planetary surfaces over time and lead to the development of possible habitats for life .
I hope to get answers to all of these questions posted for you soon. In the mean time, here is one that we posted on the official blog of the Planetary Lake Lander.
(and why are you) so interested in Titan?
A. We know that comets and asteroids have delivered the carbon
compounds or building blocks of life all over the solar system.
Astrobiologists believe that life requires water, a source of energy
(like lightning or volcanism) and nutrients. Life on Saturn, with its
high pressure and hydrogen gas atmosphere is not like any habitable
environment that we know of! However, science fiction writers have
thought of organisms that could live off lightning floating in the
clouds! At Titan, there is no liquid water and it is very, very cold.
However, there are liquid hydrocarbons (sort of like oil or gasoline)
and there is much about the evolution of life here on Earth, let alone
on other planets, that we would learn from exploring the undoubtedly
complex organic chemistry in Titan’s lakes. Titan can be thought of as
having conditions similar to those of Earth when life evolved, only
Mars was very similar to Earth for a short period of time, with liquid
water on its surface, so life is likely to have evolved. But since the
time period was short, life is likely to be microbial.
There are no glaciers on Titan- its cold climate has been stable for a
long period of time. High-resolution orbital imagery of Mars has
revealed evidence of glaciers on its surface- the youngest are likely
500,000 years old. We know these glaciers must have gone through
periods of melting and sublimation. Some of this glacial ice may be
preserved under layers of debris. This ice may still harbor microbial
life, so they would be excellent targets for a future Mars mission!
The lake in the Andes is being used to test technology to explore
lakes on Titan, while the conditions in the deglaciating lake may be
similar to those at some point in Mars’ past. And of course, they are
also helping us to understand the effects of our warming climate on
ecosystems here on Earth.